Planning to build

Relaxing planning restrictions will push building control responsibility upstream


  • John Miles

17 September 2020

The recent proposals by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to reform the planning system and relax planning restrictions in England pose several difficult problems when considering Building Regulations approval.

Landlords of unused commercial properties will benefit from this change, enabling these properties to be converted into housing without requiring a full planning permission application. However, the conversion of any building is often fraught with difficulty and the opportunity to convert any shop to residential, or add additional storeys to an existing building without due planning process creates further technical challenges which may be kicked down the road and responsibility left to building control.

Taking the most likely example of adding additional storeys to a building and changing its original use without full planning permission. This would mean that the first set of meaningful drawings could be building control plans at what would be considered RIBA Plan of Work stage 4.

The designer would need to consider whether work on the original part of the building will be necessary. This work may not always be set out in the approved documents and building control surveyors should consider this alongside the full suite of regulations using guides from organisations like the BRE and the MHCLG Circular published in August 2020.

Building control surveyors need to determine whether the plans presented answer four key questions.
  • Does the work itself comply with the applicable requirements?
  • Does the work result in the building, as a whole, being no less compliant?
  • Are there requirements relating to material change of use?
  • Are there consequential requirements when dealing with buildings with a useful floor area over 1000 metres squared?

Any additional storey or storeys may change the disproportionate collapse consequence class of a building during the work. It is therefore likely to be less satisfactory in relation to A3 after the work, because the change requires a higher level of robustness measures for the building. Surveyors should refer to the BCA Technical Guidance Note 21 REQUIREMENT A3 – DISPROPORTIONATE COLLAPSE for remedial measures.

"The reduction in design development may well create issues for building control practitioners"

Fire safety principles

As part of the regulatory approval process, building control surveyors would also need to understand whether the change of use affects the fire safety principles of the building, and one or two points in relation to Part B brought about by recent amendments.

If the work results in the residential building being over 11m they need to introduce sprinklers in both the new apartments and the existing building which may be occupied. This could be quite complex and would need to be incorporated into the design. If the additional storeys result in the building being over 18m, the façade must be examined to ensure it contains no combustible material, and the building needs to be upgraded in terms of fire-fighting facilities.

If combustible materials are found in the façade this work would require a planning application which may result in delays to the project.

Homeowner challenges

It is not just multi-occupancy buildings which will pose issues to the building control surveyor as a result of the amended planning system. The ability for homeowners to add up to two storeys to a home without the need for full planning permission came in on 31 August 2020 and it also presents significant challenges.

You may add up to two additional storeys where the existing house consists of two or more storeys up to 18m high, or one additional storey where the property consists of one single storey or a bungalow. The idea is that it enables families to add extra space to their homes, thereby avoiding the need to move to a new house.

Increasing the height of a family dwelling – or indeed any building – means that foundations need to be checked to ensure the building can support the additional load. This will require investigation works to the foundations with possible piling, should they need strengthening. If, as a result of the additional storeys, the building is over 7.5m in height, sprinklers must be installed and alterations may need to take place to ensure a protected escape route is provided.

These changes are likely to be welcomed by developers and homeowners but should be approached with caution. The absence of full planning drawings and the reduction in design development time may well create issues for building control practitioners. The changes and scale of projects would not allow the use of a Building Notice for domestic applicants due to scale of works involved. The planning reform proposals also need to align with the proposed Building Safety Bill reforms for flats and buildings which would then be over 18m and it has not been made clear how these planning reforms would satisfy Gateway Point 1 at planning stage without the full planning process and associated consultations being required.

The reforms do not apply to protected areas including national parks or conservation areas – homeowners in such areas will still need to apply for full planning permission. The consultation period for the Planning for the Future white paper will last for 12 weeks from 6 August.


Related competencies:  Legal/regulatory compliance, Planning and development management


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